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To Tow or Not to Tow: The Deterrence Effect of a Municipal Ordinance


Ronald J. Allen


Northwestern University Law School

Alexia Brunet Marks


University of Colorado Law School

May 16, 2008

Criminal Law Bulletin, Forthcoming 2011

Abstract:     
This paper provides an empirical test for the theory of deterrence. We exploit the natural experiment provided by amendments to the City of Waukegan vehicular code beginning in 2002 that added mandatory impoundment and towing of vehicles to the consequences of certain ticketed behavior: DUI, suspended/revoked license, no license, and uninsured motor vehicle. Using a unique data set quantifying tickets and accidents before and after the changes to the code, we test the deterrence hypothesis by analyzing how crime rates are affected by an increase in criminal sanctions. We find a positive and significant relationship between changes in the vehicular code and reductions in tickets and accidents. Total tickets were shown to decrease as much as 936 per month and total accidents 123 per month after changes in the legislation were implemented, controlling for the share of vehicles towed, monthly and yearly effects. Moreover, the results show a 13% drop in total tickets (for all violations), a 16% drop in total tickets issued (for four violations) and a 9% drop in Total Accidents for the time period after the legislative changes (December, 2002 to November, 2007). The data suggest that the changes to the vehicular code increased compliance with the law in Waukegan. Our paper contributes to the literature by providing credible evidence about deterrence in a natural experiment setting.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: Deterrence, Municipal Law

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Date posted: May 16, 2008 ; Last revised: May 31, 2010

Suggested Citation

Allen, Ronald J. and Marks, Alexia Brunet, To Tow or Not to Tow: The Deterrence Effect of a Municipal Ordinance (May 16, 2008). Criminal Law Bulletin, Forthcoming 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1133747 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1133747

Contact Information

Ronald Jay Allen
Northwestern University Law School ( email )
375 E. Chicago Ave
Unit 1505
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8372 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

Alexia Brunet Marks (Contact Author)
University of Colorado Law School ( email )
Wolf Law Building
401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
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